Locally advanced rectal cancer (LARC) comprises heterogeneous tumours with predominant hypoxic components. The hypoxia-inducible metabolic shift causes microenvironmental acidification generated by carbonic anhydrase IX (CAIX) and facilitates metastatic progression, the dominant cause of failure in LARC.
Using a commercially available immunoassay, circulating CAIX was assessed in prospectively archived serial serum samples collected during combined-modality neoadjuvant treatment of LARC patients and correlated to histologic tumour response and progression-free survival (PFS).
Patients who from their individual baseline level displayed serum CAIX increase above a threshold of 224 pg/ml (with 96 % specificity and 39 % sensitivity) after completion of short-course neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NACT) prior to long-course chemoradiotherapy and definitive surgery had significantly better 5-year PFS (94 %) than patients with below-threshold post-NACT versus baseline alteration (PFS rate of 56 %; p < 0.01). This particular CAIX parameter, ΔNACT, was significantly correlated with histologic ypT0–2 and ypN0 outcome (p < 0.01) and remained an independent PFS predictor in multivariate analysis wherein it was entered as continuous variable (p = 0.04).
Our results indicate that low ΔNACT, i.e., a weak increase in serum CAIX level following initial neoadjuvant treatment (in this case two cycles of the Nordic FLOX regimen), might be used as risk-adapted stratification to postoperative therapy or other modes of intensification of the combined-modality protocol in LARC.
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